New policies have recently been enforced which mean jobseekers must accept zero-hour contracts or face losing their benefits for three months.
There are now 1.4 million zero-hour contracts, and they have been criticised for being low paid, having a lack of stability, sick pay or holiday pay, and having unrealistic expectations of employees to be available from 6am-9pm weekdays and weekends.
More than one in 10 employers are using such contracts, and they are more likely to be offered to women, young people and people over 65. The figures rise to almost half of all employers in the tourism, catering and food industries.
Under new government regulations, jobseekers will now be sanctioned if they do not apply for and accept certain zero-hour contracts. Higher level sanctions will take effect if a jobseeker refuses to take a zero-hours job without ‘good reason’, or leaves the job voluntarily – this will lead to a loss of benefits for 13 weeks in the first instance, 26 weeks on the second instance, and a staggering 156 weeks in the third instance.
Whilst jobseekers are required to accept zero-hour contracts, there are some exception. The DWP stated that jobseekers would not be required to accept contracts which tie them in exclusively to work for a single employer, and the government are considering whether to ban this type of contract altogether.
Many have criticised the new regulations on zero-hour contracts. Labour MP Sheila Gilmore stated:
“I also fear that if people are required to take jobs with zero-hours contracts, they could be prevented from taking training courses or applying for other jobs that might lead to more stable and sustainable employment in the long term.”
Gilmore also said she was concerned about the policy because Job Centre decision makers already do not appear to exercise enough discretion before applying benefit sanctions under the old regime.
Shadow minister Andy Sawford also criticised the new rules: “How can you commit to training, undertake a proper job search or agree to participate in interviews when you are on a zero-hours contract and may be required to work at any time?
“Requiring people to take zero-hour jobs is a big change from the past. It will create further insecurity for many of the lowest paid people.”
Just like the new ‘Help to Work’ scheme, which is essentially slave labour requiring jobseekers to work up to 30 hours a week unpaid, these new regulations are exploiting workers, pushing people further in to poverty, and damaging those who are already hit the hardest. In addition, policies such as these are likely to widen the ever increasing gap between rich and poor, and further increase health inequalities in society.
Whilst the Unions do not have the power they used to in the pre-Thatcher era, they are still fighting hard against exploitative policies such as workfare, zero-hour contracts and benefit sanctions.
Unite the Union has launched campaigns against these policies, and are encouraging people to report their experiences of zero-hour contracts and email their MPs in order to force government to listen.
For more information about Unite the Union’s campaigns, please click here.